Brandon Veale column: Keeping score for the Tokyo Olympics

Just how did Team USA do in these Games?

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Brandon Veale
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If there's one lasting lesson I hope you take from this series of Olympic columns, it's that the medal table is mostly meaningless.

Each Olympic sport takes place in a realm completely distinct from the others. Nothing the archers do makes the canoeists any better. Even within a sport, the effect of one event on the outcome of another is minimal, with the exception of issues of fatigue for multiple-event participants and psychological factors like wanting to make up for a bad first outing with a second chance.

At the time of this writing, China has two more gold medals than the U.S. The Americans have an insurmountable total of overall medals. However, nobody gets any special prizes overall.

The folly of keeping overall statistics was underlined by the time difference, which meant that NBC's nightly updates were often getting erased by events happening live simultaneously. On Wednesday night, as we were editing the column about fourth-place finishers that I wrote for the following day, we had to change all the numbers after the U.S. ended up with a silver and a fourth in the men's 110-meter hurdles.

As the Tokyo 2020 Games draw to a close this weekend, this is the first of a two-part evaluation of what we've seen. This entry is about matters between the lines of competition over the last 16 days.


For the seventh consecutive Summer Olympics, Team USA's most successful outfit was the swim team, with 30 medals (11 gold, 10 silver and 9 bronze). The only other country with anywhere near the same amount of success in the pool was Australia (21—9-3-9). Australia's ascendancy is probably less USA Swimming's fault and more that other teams did better than average. By comparison, Team USA had more swimming golds in Rio (16) than the next nine nations combined.

The story of the U.S. track and field team will probably be heavily divided by gender. It took until the last day Friday night for the United States to win a men's track event (the 4x400-meter relay). Dominant shot-putter Ryan Crouser retained gold in his event, but that's it for guys in golds, alongside six runners-up. U.S. women won five events (discus, pole vault, 4x400 relay, 400 hurdles, 800 meters).

In fact the overall gender balance of the results is very telling. Of 108 American medalists to this point, a wide majority have come from women (63), with 39 from men and six in mixed-gender events.

Pound for pound, the most successful American unit in Tokyo was probably the wrestlers. In six men's freestyle weight classes, Americans found their way to the podium in five of them (and didn't have an entrant in the sixth). Four women wrestlers medaled in six weight classes. Boxing made a bit of a comeback, collecting a minimum of three silvers for what probably amounts to the team's best Olympics in 20 years.

Rowing, on the other hand, failed to collect a medal for the first time in over a century. The men's and women's eights, arguably the best-known event in the discipline, both finished in fourth, particularly disappointing when the women won the last three gold medals in a row.

But enough about the statistics. How did these moments make you feel?

Celebrate the way Sunisa Lee stood up and earned the women's gymnastics all-around title, not just for her country and herself but for Minnesota and to give Hmong families everywhere a moment in the sun.

I remain thrilled by how the U.S. women dominate the indoor volleyball court and smash a quick set to the floor, even after injuries forced them to replace their setter and their most effective hitter.


I continue to be amazed at the sorts of things Kevin Durant can do with a basketball. If there is a 'unicorn' in major professional sports, he is it.

And what a treat it was that both the men's and women's versions of what is probably my favorite event, the 400-meter hurdles, were legendary duels and world records, between Karsten Warholm and Rai Benjamin; and between Sydney McLaughlin and Dalilah Muhammad.

We don't celebrate the Olympics every four years to create statistics or medal counts. We seek memories, moments and performances. I can sit here and count medals and make comparisons for another 750 words. The competitive side of Tokyo 2020 is about history, which is, thankfully, another matter entirely.

Brandon Veale is presentation editor of the News Tribune.

This column was edited at 1:09 a.m. on Aug. 8 to correct a reference to the 110-meter hurdles. It was originally posted at 8:15 p.m. on Aug. 7.

Related Topics: TOKYO OLYMPICS
Brandon has been sports editor of the News Tribune since August 2021.
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